Innovation is hard to define and seems to have become a very subjective term.  A new method, a solution, something novel, a brave idea, a disruption, something relevant or useful, great execution of a plan to solve a problem, something that adds value, the key to future success. At least we can all agree that it is widely believed to be something important and has increasingly become the buzz word over the last few years across many industries. So are people working in the arts industry really innovative?

Art (and science) has always been seen as hot bed of inspiration for innovation.  It encourages us to open our eyes, see things from different perspectives and philosophise and reflect on societal problems.  However, increasingly, in the diverse technological landscape of the Internet of Things, being an artist, gallery or museum exhibiting art isn’t enough to garner an audience’s attention anymore.  Thankfully we no longer have to worry about the threat of losing our ears, should we be branded an ‘innovator’, as was the case in the 16th century. Nevertheless, it has also become progressively important for all companies to adopt an innovative culture to stay ahead of the curve.  But do you need a budget like Apple, Amazon or Google to be innovative?  Thankfully, you only have to look at a list of the most forward thinking and creative companies in the world right now to know that isn’t necessarily true. 

When you run an arts engagement community, I meet a lot of people who tell me they are very left-brain dominant and not creative or inventive.  It is part of my role as an engagement specialist to help facilitate their understanding of art and build connections with what they see and experience to breakdown those myths. Disconnection is often present amongst the organisations hosting these beautiful works.  Amongst the host of challenges museums and galleries have to contend with today is the need to be more innovative with their services and customer interactions and often with less budget. 

As far as their audience is concerned, this is no longer just about Luddism in the age of technological communication, it is about creating multiple avenues of meaningful engagement. Innovation is probably the most important tool to achieve that but organisational culture is often the biggest obstacle to creativity.  Adopting a practice of innovation could help you understand the breadth of possibility and give your brand longevity in an increasingly tough market.

Innovation success

Here are 5 tips to help you and your organisation embrace innovation:

1.   Make sure that every year you are analysing the macro and micro environment you are operating in.

This is easier said than done and so many brands start with tactics to solve a problem, without first analysing their environment.  A simple SWOT analysis of your macro and micro environment and some secondary research into shifts and disruptions in your industry could give you a wealth of information about the real problems that are directly and indirectly affecting you and your surroundings.  Reading your daily dose of art news is one thing but stepping back from the daily noise and looking at your whole industry, the wider problems affecting everybody and then how both combined affect your organisation, is much more revealing.  This can help you predict hard times ahead, see the weaknesses in your offering and is one of the best ways to generate new ideas and ways of thinking.  This is a process that should be adopted by a a team of people to get a broad view of what is happening around you that might disrupt or inspire change.

2. Identify your constraints 

Remove as many innovation constraints that you face as possible.  What stops you from innovating?  Do the barriers come from within your team, organisation, from the wider art industry? Are they societal? Technological? Or your own barriers?  By doing this, you are creating the right conditions for innovation to thrive.

3. Solve them

Once you identify what is holding you back from embracing uncertainty, risk, new ideas and lateral thinking, you need to figure out how you can work around them.  Remember innovation is not about having a lot of money or time to do something, it’s about recognising problems or weaknesses when they happen and finding solutions for those problems. For example if you find that in your company, all the great ideas are often stopped before they are approved then you need to rework the way brainstorming is done. 

According to Digital Spark, a study done on the top 50 innovations over a 100 year period found that 80% of them came from people outside the industry in which the innovation took place.  What does that tell us about fresh, new and interesting ideas?  Sometimes solutions can come from other fields.  Seek ideas from people outside of your team. Perhaps invite new employees, different departments, the blue-sky thinkers and the creatives to your brainstorms to get  fresh ideas. Don’t misunderstand, your risk averse financiers and lawyers are also key players in your innovation management cycle, as is debate and disagreement, but use them at different times rather than putting the whole team in a room together where they cancel each other out.   Once you have three strong, viable ideas from your creatives, bring in the suits and get them to help you highlight any further problems and considerations that you might need to solve first so your idea can be shaped into a well-executed plan.

4. Agility is a key part of innovation

When you embrace innovative thinking to solve a problem is really important.  Often by the time a team has decided that ignoring a situation isn’t working, it’s often too late.  In a study by McKinsey, they found that agile companies tended to be hotbeds for innovation and learning.  Forward plan and strategise, get your employees to keep their collective eye on the market and be honest about the problems that you are facing as a company. 

Using predictive data analytics that can anticipate the future rather than historic analytics that tell you about the past is one way of becoming future facing. Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has built his company around a culture of embracing risk, not always taking the obvious move and constantly trying to imagine what customers want next — way before they know it themselves.  In a recent leadership forum, Bezos said that he teaches his managers to focus on the future and wants them to be able to look around corners so that they can anticipate and see what’s next.

5. Embrace a little risk and the possibility of failure

The need for risk isn’t something that you can ignore.  Think like an entrepreneur and cultivate a culture that embraces failure – this is such a key part of innovation.  Testing and experimenting is important but knowing that if you have tried something (and obviously not cost the company a fortune) and it didn’t work out, you are seen less as a failure and more as an innovator.  A lot of the seemingly progressive companies that we look to now – Google and Amazon, are known to embrace failure because experimentation and the learnings from these experiments are key to future successes.  In the words of the Research professor and author, Dr Brene Brown, ‘There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.’ 

She’s not the only one to think so, Google is known to run quarterly failure reports and post-mortems. Amazon has embraced a highly experimental culture,  encouraging constructive feedback without blame.  Focusing on what has been learned from that process and see where the opportunity is as well as ensuring that that is part of a cyclical test and learn process that your company goes through is crucial to getting the most out of failure and also feedback.  As Professor Edward E Hess, Professor of Business Administration at Darden says, see failure and risk as an exploratory journey and invest in it wisely but bravely as an organisation.  Reward innovation in your team, or company.  A great idea can follow a bad one so encourage people to brainstorm, search for new ideas in all sorts of places and think outside the box.  This will also help your company to keep up to date with the latest and best things happening around you so you are less likely to be overwhelmed and find you are on the back foot with significant industry or environmental change. Look for events that promote and embrace a failure culture.  In Singapore, F*ckup Nights, regularly run at Found is an event where  successful entrepreneurs tell their stories through their failures, summarising what they learnt that helped them get where they are today.  The entrepreneur, scientist and author, Astro Teller’s TED Talk on The Benefits of Failure is a great place to start on your journey to adopting innovation. 

If you want to learn and understand more about overcoming innovation constraints, I would thoroughly recommend Innovation in the Arts by Vanderbilt University, a very thorough look at innovation and the barriers to it across multiple sectors.

If you want to learn more about the biggest innovations, disruptions and challenges for 2018-2019, read our exclusive coverage of Innovfest Unbound 2018 in Singapore.  

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